Sea of Shadows film review

It has been nearly a year since I last wrote on V-log, and in that time, the vaquita’s situation has continued to worsen.

The most recent estimates put the population at 15 individuals, with the lucrative totoaba swim bladder trade stronger than ever. A fierce partnership between smugglers in Mexico and China creates a perfect storm of greed and corruption, with an innocent porpoise caught in the middle. NGOs struggle to find solutions, and the government fares even worse. A battle rages between legal and illegal fishermen, townspeople, the Mexican Navy, journalists, conservationists, police, and government officials, often in unexpected ways. The stage is set for one of the best documentaries of the past decade.

Sea of Shadows is the product of many years of meticulous planning, collaborating, and filming. Purchased by National Geographic after critical acclaim at Sundance, this film is a joint project between Terra Mater Factual Studios, Appian Way, Malaika Pictures, and The Wild Lens Collective, with Leonardo DiCaprio as executive producer and The Ivory Game’s Richard Ladkani as director.

Spoiler warning

The film is thoroughly gripping from the very first scene, showing a nighttime chase between illegal fishermen and Sea Shepherd that gets your arm hairs raised and heart pounding before the title card even appears. After the beautifully animated title sequence establishes the vaquita’s situation, we are thrown right into the action. The film is comprised of five intertwining narratives: Mexican reporter Carlos Loret de Mola searches for the truth behind the totoaba cartel and its kingpin; Italian environmentalist Andrea Crosta and his team of undercover investigators at Earth League International seek to unravel the link between China and illegal Mexican fishermen; American veterinarian Dr. Cynthia Smith and the rest of the Vaquita CPR project team desperately try to capture and save the last few vaquitas from the now-deadly waters they inhabit; drone operator Jack Hutton and the rest of Sea Shepherd’s Operation Milagro crew risk their lives to locate illegal fishermen and remove gillnets from the water; and generational San Felipe fishermen Javier and Alan Valverde struggle with the cost of following the law.

The filmmakers chose the perfect time in history to capture the vaquita’s plight. Never have so many intensely cinematic developments occurred in the fight to save this species. No film could ever capture every single facet of this situation, but Sea of Shadows knows exactly what parts to show in order to tap into the most visceral emotions of the audience. Activists have been talking to people and writing about the vaquita for years, with some undeniable success in terms of public support for the species. However, absolutely nothing can compare to being right there in the action – witnessing fishermen riot and drones and police being shot at; seeing a kingpin murder a soldier and a vaquita slowly die in someone’s arms. Above all, Sea of Shadows is a thriller, and an extremely effective one at that. I have rarely been so engrossed by a film, let alone a documentary.

Best of all, this thriller never forgets its central thesis: the vaquita’s story is just one example of what human greed is doing to this planet, and if we don’t change our ways, we will lose everything.

One thing that this movie made clearer to me than ever before is the destructive power of money. Over the past few years I have come to realize that all of the world’s environmental problems stem from our desire for short-term profits, and this movie hammered this message home in an unforgettable way.

If you can’t get to a theater that is showing it, keep your eyes out for this film on the National Geographic Channel and streaming services sometime soon. I hope Sea of Shadows reaches the masses before it is too late for the vaquita and the other species we share this planet with, because it certainly has the ability to wake people up and make a real difference. That is the power of great cinema.

Final verdict: all 15 remaining vaquitas out of 15

To find a showing near you, learn more about the film, and find out how you can help, please visit the Sea of Shadows website: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/films/sea-of-shadows

And click here to watch Souls of the Vermilion Sea, the 30-minute vaquita film by Sea of Shadows producers Matt Podolsky and Sean Bogle: https://vimeo.com/212128879

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60 Vaquitas remain

The results from last year’s survey are in, and as of fall 2015, there are 60 Vaquitas left on the planet.

This new population estimate was released during the seventh meeting of the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) last week.

And in case you were wondering, 60 is a very small number when you are talking about the amount of individuals left in an entire species. There is a good chance you saw more than 60 people today. You probably have more than 60 Facebook friends. Look around. I bet you could find 60 of something lying around your house or in your yard right now. You could go outside and count 60 birds in no time.

However, seeing this many Vaquitas would mean seeing every last one in existence.

This new figure demonstrates that the Vaquita is still declining at a rapid pace, despite valiant efforts from the Mexican government and conservationists alike. Nighttime Totoaba poaching is rampant. Three dead Vaquitas were found in March alone. The two-year ban ends in less than a year.

Our work is certainly not done.

If we are going to save the Vaquita, it will require international cooperation at a level that has never been accomplished in the history of conservation. That may sound impossible, but we have reason for hope. Over the next few months, the Vaquita will receive more attention than it (or almost any endangered species, for that matter) ever has.

Since the new population estimate was released, hundreds of articles have been published by the world’s most prominent news outlets highlighting the dire situation of the Vaquita.

Articles such as this one will help bolster awareness of the Vaquita’s plight tremendously.

But that’s not all.

This Sunday, May 22, at 8 pm ET/PT (check local listings) on CBS, there will be an episode of 60 Minutes with a feature story on the Vaquita!

Please be sure to give it a watch and let all your friends know! Millions of people will see it and hopefully be inspired to save the Vaquita. If you are already inspired, you can start immediately with the best way to help: sign our petition to make the gillnet ban permanent.

And of course, the biggest day of the year for the Vaquita is approaching fast: International Save the Vaquita Day 2016 is on July 9, and it is going to be massive.

This is the Year of the Vaquita after all, and if this event is not successful in uniting people around the world for the Vaquita’s cause, the species could be extinct before Christmas.

Wild Lens (now an official member of VIVA Vaquita!) has just released a short film (below) about the Vaquita, highlighting the many sides of this extremely complex issue.

They plan to release the accompanying feature-length documentary, Souls of the Vermilion Sea, in 2018.

Souls of the Vermilion Sea: Searching for the Vaquita from Wild Lens on Vimeo.

Wild Lens

Wild Lens, a non-profit documentary production company, has announced their latest and greatest project: Souls of the Vermilion Sea.

Souls of the Vermilion Sea

Souls of the Vermilion Sea will be a documentary about the Vaquita’s situation, especially the crucial next three years. They will be following the Vaquita and its helpers’ story until the population recovers, or tragically goes extinct.

For such an ambitious project, they will need funding. Luckily, there is a way for all of us to help make this exciting documentary a reality: Kickstarter.

Wild Lens has created a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the film. And the best part is, the people who donate get Vaquita-related rewards! I am proud to say that my book, both signed and unsigned, as well as two of my original drawings are included among those prizes! Also included are other magnificent original artworks, a Vaquita ringtone, and some other amazing prizes.

So please, spare $5, or better yet, $10,000 (don’t worry, the reward is incredible) to help Wild Lens reach their goal of $15,000 within the month of June.

This amazing project can’t become a reality without your generous support!

Souls of the Vermilion Sea